OUR OPINION: Gustav testing state’s memory

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Ascension Parish residents are among the hundreds of thousands in Louisiana and millions on the Gulf coast bracing for impact from what was Tropical Storm Gustav Thursday and very well could be a strong Category 3 hurricane by the time it enters the Gulf of Mexico and moves toward the Gulf coast this Labor Day weekend.

The irony of the situation is not lost on us or others. Many are aware that it was on this very day in 2005 that life changed forever not only for the metro New Orleans area, Louisiana and the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, but for our country. For on this day, Katrina made her presence felt and destroyed the lives of many. The horrible images of homes and streets filled with water as the levees burst, the tops of school buses scheduled for evacuation peering over the water line, people climbing to their rooftops for safety and some not surviving the storm and the iconic Superdome being reduced to a disheveled husk still burn bright in our minds.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who really earned his stripes during the aftermath of Katrina in his home area of New Orleans, is now at the helm of state government in preparation for impact from this storm. He declared a state of emergency Wednesday, leading many to begin taking precautions and possibly consider evacuating. Hopefully, Jindal can do a better job of preparing the state than the previous administration did when Katrina and Rita tore through southeast and southwest Louisiana.

In New Orleans, residents and city officials are keeping a close eye on Gustav’s path, hoping they will not be in its way. After the beating it took not only from the storm, but from critics about mismanagement before, during and after Katrina. Many feel that the city is not ready to take another hit from a major storm system.

Here locally, Parish President Tommy Martinez was expected to issue a state of emergency declaration for Ascension Friday morning. While Ascension was a haven for many who fled the New Orleans area during Katrina and for some who came from the west when Rita struck, we were spared from most of their destruction. However, we may not be as lucky this time.

Many of the forecast tracks have Gustav coming ashore anywhere between Galveston and Pensacola, with Louisiana sitting right in the middle. Some models show it hitting the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City or even striking New Orleans. It is already blamed for 11 deaths in Haiti from torrential rains, flooding and mudslides.

We urge everyone within this storm’s path, especially parish residents, to take every possible safety precaution. Make sure you have supplies of food, hygiene products, safety equipment, first-aid kits, gasoline, money and more. Take care of any pets you may have. Form an evacuation plan and keep in touch with relatives and friends who may need your help or are worried about your safety.

The parish’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has a very comprehensive Web site that can assist you in preparing for an emergency event. To visit the site, go to www.ascensionparish.net and click on the box marked “OHSEP Hurricane Central.”

So, have we learned our lesson in terms of hurricane preparedness, let’s hope the answer is yes.